No More Wussies

Or, why Tom Hanks isn't Steve Guttenberg

When Hanks started acting, as part of a community theater troupe in Cleveland, he felt lucky for any role he got. He took the crappy stuff because it was fun, because it would lead to better stuff, because it paid enough to eat and make rent. Acting was fun, and it was hell, and then it became hard work, Hanks says, once he realized that to get better you actually had to put something back into it. It was one thing to breeze through on a crooked grin and a cocked eyebrow, but it was something entirely different to play a guy with AIDS or an astronaut who got this close to his dreams or a bitter and washed-up ballplayer or a commanding officer who could never let on how freaking scared he was.

"When you start, it's like you get involved in the fever," Hanks says of his early days. "It's like a fever pitch. Suddenly the opportunity is dangled in front of you, and you can actually clarify that you're the guy they actually want, and then your eyes roll up in the back of your head and you just pursue and pursue and pursue in your own individual work process. You're not aware of it--I think that if you're actually aware of it, you end up outside of yourself looking on and saying, 'Oh, that's a good career move.' You can't construct a career or a body of work. Well, you can, but you'll not be following through on the reasons you do this in the first place.

O brother, where am I? Joel and Ethan Coen's remake 
of The Ladykillers.
O brother, where am I? Joel and Ethan Coen's remake of The Ladykillers.

"I've gotten my ass kicked, I've had some good times, some things haven't worked out, the world operates in a real different, better and more scary way, depending on how you look at it, and I just want to explore other things. I'm now 47, and slowly there have been times when I say, 'I can't believe they're giving me this job.' In earlier days, I was never the guy who got to play the astronaut who goes to the moon or the captain on Omaha Beach. So the only plan, the only philosophy, the only strategy involved is I read stuff and say, 'I can't believe they're giving me a chance to play this.' The only philosophy is that, 'Man, I haven't done this. I can't believe they're giving me a chance.'"

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